It Is Not Just a Matter of Ethics: A Survey of the Provision of Health Disclaimers, Caveats, and Other Health-related Alerts in Consumer Health Information on Eating Disorders on the Internet

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Eating disorders a¡ect millions of people, and their preva- lence demonstrates that the condition exists across gender and cultural boundaries. The Internet is a major channel for publishing and disseminating electronic information, al- lowing worldwide access of massive health-related, lay- and professional-oriented information. However, much research has found that health-related information on the Internet can be overwhelming, incomplete, and/or inaccurate. The success of health promotion in the 21st century depends on whether available consumer health information (CHI) is adequate, accurate, and easy to use. Usually, health disclai- mers, caveats, and other health-related alerts are messages to notify users that the information provided is not intended nor implied to be a replacement or an alternative for profes- sional health-related advice. These messages also serve as in- dicators to show that information providers take ethical responsibility for quality control in terms of providing valid and reliable consumer health information on the Internet. The study used content analysis1 to examine the provision and assess the quality of health disclaimers, caveats, and other health-related alerts included in adult CHI on eating disorders published on the Internet in 1998. The researcher- generated instrument was based on evaluative criteria de- rived from Alexander and Tate;2 Health On the Net Foundation;3 Mitretek Systems;4 and Silberg, Lundberg and Musacchio.5 Web search engines (Northern Light, HotBot, and Excite) were used for data collection on Internet-based publications. The results indicated that the CHI on eating disorders on the Internet did not include disclaimers, caveats, and other health-related alerts which demonstrates a lack of quality control and ethical responsibility on the part of the information providers and site administra- tors.